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A remarkable study of the Tory Party’s divisions over Europe: Lord Cormack reviews 'Worm in the Apple'

A remarkable study of the Tory Party’s divisions over Europe: Lord Cormack reviews 'Worm in the Apple'

June 1975: (l-r) Willie Whitelaw MP, the then-leader of the opposition Margaret Thatcher, and Peter Kirk MP hold a press conference on the European Communities membership referendum, London | Alamy

3 min read

An elegantly written masterclass in how to disagree agreeably, Lord Tugendhat's book charting the history of Conservative divisions over Europe is extraordinary

This is a remarkable book. Elegantly written, it offers a masterclass in how to disagree agreeably. Although there is no doubt about Lord (Christopher) Tugendhat’s beliefs, I have never read a book on a contentious subject which has so fairly set out the author’s case and at the same time been ready not only to attribute fault to his own side but to recognise the case of his opponents.

Tugendhat has better credentials for writing this historical analysis of the Conservative European divide than most. He entered the Commons in 1970. His talents were soon recognised on both sides of the House and this led to his appointment, by prime minister James Callaghan, as one of Britain’s European commissioners in 1977. He remained in Brussels for eight years, the last four as one of the Commission’s vice presidents. Since 1993 he has been an active Member of the House of Lords.

He takes the story of the Conservative Party and its changing relationship with Europe back to Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden, both of whom, for all Churchill’s stirring rhetoric, showed an unwillingness to become involved in the discussions which led to the European Coal and Steel Community, and then to the Treaty of Rome and the creation of the Economic Community in 1957.

He is critical of both Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath for not following the advice of Lord Kilmuir and coming clean to the British people that there were real constitutional implications in our becoming a member of a community which wished to grow more closely together. There was too much stressing of the word “economic” and not sufficient recognition of the word “community” in those early days.

For all his fairness he does not disguise his disappointment at the result of the referendum and its aftermath

Tugendhat himself was not an advocate of monetary union and he praises the skill of John Major in negotiating the Maastricht opt-out. But he also describes, both fairly and graphically, how there were elements within the Conservative Party for whom opt-outs and qualifications were never enough. He gives a thorough analysis of Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges speech and of how its influence grew and was exploited in the years that followed, leading to the party becoming more and more Eurosceptic. After he succeeded Thatcher, Major became increasingly convinced that a close relationship with the other members of the European Union, particularly after former Soviet bloc countries joined, was in our own best interests.

He describes the rise of Ukip and David Cameron’s approach to the issue of a referendum, something which Thatcher had advocated in the context of monetary union many years before. Tugendhat himself admits that, although he did not favour it at the time, it might well have been a boil-lancing exercise to have had a referendum on a specific issue, such as the ratification of Lisbon, as a number of our European neighbours did.

For all his fairness and objectivity, he does not disguise his disappointment at the result of the referendum, and its aftermath. This book went to press at the end of 2021. If anything has demonstrated the necessity of maintaining the closest relationships with our former partners in the European Union, events in Ukraine have.

Lord Cormack is a Conservative peer and life president of The House magazine

 

The Worm in the Apple: A History of the Conservative Party and Europe from Churchill to Cameron

Written by: Christopher Tugendhat
Publisher: Haus Publishing

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